Friday, 24 March 2017

Too much information

In this month's President's Blog, CIBSE President John Field takes a look back at two presentations delivered during the ASHRAE Winter Conference and at a CIBSE Scotland/SLL meeting, discussing performance, big data and modelling.

In the last few weeks, I've been lucky enough to see a series of fascinating presentations on performance, control, feedback, BIM and big data, so I'm going to go through two of them now.

Alastair MacGregor, Vice President
The first was by Alastair MacGregor, Vice President AECOM Los Angeles, at Tim Dwyer's excellent workshop during the ASHRAE Winter Conference. It concerned "third generation" sports arena design - in this case for the Sacramento Kings basketball team. The first-generation was passive design supported by brute force plant, the second generation was design for peak demand and the third generation is performance driven. 

Well the Sacramento arena has a capacity of 17,000 and they are all online: they've all got high-quality Wi-Fi with an app for their team and for the game and they are hooked into the controls via the app which encourages feedback about their conditions. Alastair talked about the internet of fans - I thought at first he meant the internet of ventilation fans, but actually he meant the internet of sports fans - and they are providing source data for the HVAC and lighting controls: if you get say 2000 people in one area saying they are too cold, then it's likely that that's worth acting on, so it is hooked up to the BMS via some analytics and provides an addition to traditional control paths. My belief is that larger buildings will generally be operated like that in the future.

The second presentation was at an interesting Scotland Region/SLL meeting where Friedrich Wilhelm Bremecker of DIAL presented what could be called the dummies introduction to BIM. His examples were from lighting and hot water system design. His initial point was that Building Information Modelling has four underlying principles:

            1. It is a digital representation or model of the real building
            2. Each real object will be represented by a digital object
            3. Complete information will be exchanged by open interfaces
            4. Each participant of the process can access the information which is 
                relevant for them

We all probably think we know that, but Friedrich cast a novel light on BIM illustrating it rather strangely with Rene Magritte's famous picture of a smoker's pipe which has the words underneath (in French) "this is not a pipe".

The Treachery of Images by Rene Magritte

Magritte is right it's not a pipe, it's a picture of a pipe and it doesn't have any weight, it doesn't have a hollow bowl, it's just a bit of paint on a bit of paper and that that's the difference between a drawing and an object, between a CAD drawing of a door and a BIM door object; it's a very revealing example.

The other thing is the importance of open standards and the tendency for a model to be very complicated. There will be lots of proprietary model formats, but there will always be things they can't solve. You need open access and flexible interaction so that information can be swapped with specialist models and applications. As examples, there are the IFC and bSDD vocabulary/frameworks and the DDS-CAD BIM project viewer.

A key aspect is limiting the depth of the model: you don't need to model where each photon is going in a lighting calculation, nor the detailed luminaire construction down to individual rivets. If you did, each project would have gigabytes of information most of which would be unused.

Another aspect is ownership and its protection: these models have such complete information about designs and specifications, that it's possible in principle to basically just rip a whole design or a whole process. 

Well these two presentations were pretty different but they reflect on very interesting aspects of performance, big data and modelling. To my mind, they show we are making progress in areas where we have to make progress or somebody else will.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Top priority

In this month's President's Blog, CIBSE President John Field takes a look back at the Conference and Exhibition and asks - 'Have we got our priorities straight?

In the first blog of a new year it’s traditional to have a look back at the year that came before, and take a look forward at the year ahead – so I’m going to start off with a quick word about November’s Conference and Exhibition. It has become one of the biggest honours in a CIBSE President’s term to preside over the yearly Conference, where we get to demonstrate the wealth of knowledge, experience and innovation within the ranks of the building services engineering community, and this year’s was the biggest and most exciting that I have attended.

Naturally, Building Performance was the focus of the event (it’s in the name after all!) and the issue of how we can create new buildings and reform existing ones in order to make them kinder to the environment and their occupants was a thread that ran through every single presentation, speech and CPD session. But that got me thinking – with so much information and research available on the issue of Building Performance, how can we help to balance the priorities of the many different facets of the performance issue?

Location, size of business and budget can all be major factors
in setting sustainability priorities
This issue is also one of accessibility: If massive multi-national corporations with access to vast resources struggle with balancing their building performance priorities, how are the smaller operations without the benefit of as much time, money or expertise supposed to manage?
Stripped down to its basic parts, the job of a designer is to:

Maintain expected levels of temperature, lighting, fresh air etc.
Have low initial cost
Have acceptable lifetime and flexibility for re-use and end-of-life requirements
Have low running costs, including energy costs
Have low resource use and impact including energy-related emissions
Have happy and productive occupants
Have good engagement/effect on the immediate and wider community

Unfortunately there is no ‘silver bullet’ that will allow us to achieve all these aims with a single action, and for a long time the energy issue was king, tied in with the carbon that creating that energy generates. Most of our focus was in reducing energy usage in order to cut associated greenhouse gas emissions, but this rather one-eyed approach lead to issues of its own around comfort and cost. Sustainability began to take hold as a new ultimate goal – creating buildings that were not just energy efficient, but more sustainable in business and environmental terms. Recently the issue of occupant well-being has also come to the fore.

Occupant well-being is increasingly seen as a priority on par with efficiency
But these changes have, in turn, made the mission of achieving better building performance a maze of different and sometimes competing priorities. Making a building more comfortable for its staff may actually increase its cost, but the savings gained through greater staff productivity and fewer sick days may offset this. In fact, as stated in a number of Conference sessions, staff costs can be higher than energy costs by a factor of 90 to 1 for offices. Increasing comfort and well-being may also increase energy usage, but with the right balance of design priorities this can be kept to a minimum – though it will certainly hit a business in its bottom line energy spend.

Buildings under construction now will determine carbon
emissions in 50 years time
Adding to the mix is the concern that these issues govern a building’s lifetime costs, not just annual costs. Building Physics Engineer Marine Sanchez raised this as an issue of concern in her Conference presentation, saying that we risk ‘locking in’ bad performance and cost for the whole life of a building if we get it wrong. This is an issue that is often difficult to sell to clients who may not be interested in such a long-term view, but which will be vital to future generations who may find themselves stuck with an inherited performance burden they can’t address.

So what is our role in this, as individual engineers and as an Institution? As experts it is up to us to guide clients towards the best solutions for them, in order to help them achieve their goals, whether that is to increase wellbeing, lower energy costs or carbon emissions. Clients will look to us for guidance on the dizzying range of options and priorities out there, and it is up to us to make sense of what our own priorities are, and to equip ourselves with the right skills and resources to help most effectively.

There is a huge opportunity in front of us, this year and beyond, to drive positive changes in the built environment. But in order to grasp it, we as professionals - and together as an Institution - need to be clear what the priorities are, and how alignment with our clients’ natural priorities can best be achieved.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Building the future

In this month's President's blog in the run-up to Tomorrow's Engineers Week, John Field takes a look at an unusual new engineering competition for young people - and explores what it means for the teaching of engineering, and the future of talent in the industry

At the Joint CIBSE-ASHRAE seminar this month we had the pleasure of listening to a presentation by ASHRAE President Prof Tim Wentz, who introduced us to an engineering course at the University of Wisconsin by saying “"A hands-on approach is how students learn, and is almost always the most effective way of teaching". This, I think, touches on a very important issue with the way we introduce young people to Engineering.

As a profession we’re competing for talent with other high-profile careers ranging from medicine to banking and finance, who do a very good job of demonstrating the virtues of their fields. Engineering, meanwhile, has something of an image problem and is seen as decidedly dull in comparison. One of the reasons for this is probably the way young people are brought into the profession: often a practical design-led route via D&T that lacks glamour, or a technical STEM-led route via Maths and Physics that seems very dry. In comparison with the adrenaline of the trading floor, it’s easy to see why heads are turned at a young age.

Luring young talent away from the City is a top priority for Engineering
Young people don’t have the option to be engineers until much further down the line, and they don’t see the huge variety of careers that an engineering route can take you on, or the day to day life an engineer lives. That’s why I was so excited by an initiative that I was lucky to have the chance to judge, the Design Engineer Construct! Event by Class Of Your Own titled ‘Jamie's Italian Design Challenge’. Simply, schools submitted a team of ten students to fulfill the roles of a design team and submit a plan that transforms a local building into a Jamie’s Italian restaurant – taking into account all the usual issues of their chosen profession, but also factors such as the buildings effect on its occupants, its effect on the area and its sustainability.

Clacton Coastal Academy's winning design transformed a
Napoleonic Martello Tower into a restaurant
This competition is unique because it places engineering in context for the young people who take part. It’s no longer just a vague notion of building sites, mechanics and equation-balancing, it’s an actual activity that has real effects on the local community where they live. It opens their eyes to potential: Whether that’s the potential of a career as a surveyor, an architect or a building services engineer, the potential for a retrofit to make something of a dilapidated building they walk past every day, or the potential for several disparate and unfamiliar professions to come together and build something from scratch.

This is also an unusually high profile competition because of the involvement of and support from the Jamie's Italian restaurant chain; Jamie Oliver is a household name with a strong link to schools. This was a carefully identified and pursued aspect of the competition to bring in some much needed celebrity status. Maybe someone should write it up as a book titled The Naked Engineer, a profile-raising tactic successfully used by the famous chef.

More than 200 students took part to provide the 20 submissions, they demonstrated some fantastic ideas about what can be done with a range of old and new buildings, and the eventual winners from Clacton Coastal Academy really captured the spirit of the competition with a revamped Martello Tower. Because it’s not just about feeding another generation of engineers into the system – we also want them to go in with sustainability and public benefit firmly front of mind as they train. 

Competitions like this, and the way they introduce engineering to young minds, tick both boxes. I’ve always said that engineers are building the future, so we need to show the next generation the future we want to see. By linking the career of engineering with other social benefits like community cohesion, sustainability, climate change and healthy environments, we’re enthusing young people about both.

Myself (far right) and the rest of the judging panel on decision day!
They can see the benefits that these things have on the world around them and in their own communities, and they can see how engineering allows them to be part of that. Whether it’s designing a healthier school, a restaurant in a Napoleonic tower, new housing that prioritises indoor air quality or a zero-carbon factory – all these things are good for the world around them, and possible through working in engineering. It was fantastic to see a group of young people so engaged in the design process, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared with the industry as a whole. 

The UK needs 1,000,000 more engineers by 2020 to meet growth and replace the retiring workforce, and we’re going to have to get creative to meet that target. Ideas like this could be the solution to the shortage, and supercharge the sustainability culture into the bargain. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

What's not to like?

Do you Like your office?

Do you like your office? When I say ‘like’ I don’t mean appreciate or ‘enjoy’, I mean do you Like it with a big, blue Facebook thumb? Such questions have got a bad rap in recent years. The ‘Like’ is seen as the ultimate superficial gesture, the epitome of ‘slacktivism’ and a meaningless affirmative in place of actual thought or expression. But, in the right hands, a Like could make an awful lot of difference, and could even change the world.

A Like is really just a data point, and it doesn’t mean an awful lot when you’re talking about a friend’s holiday photos, but applied to buildings ratings can make a lot of difference both in the short and long term. The world’s biggest companies boast of their Likes online and jostle for your attention because it shows their product is good and authentic.

This model has a lot of potential with buildings: We’ve been used to measuring the energy efficiency of buildings for years, but the problem is engagement. Landlords are often reluctant to promote their energy ratings because they take into account the energy habits of their tenants, over which they have little control. As a result, the energy rating isn’t something landlords shout about, and thus they have little marketable value. In Australia, however, it works differently.

The worst performing Australian offices
perform 4x better than Britain's worst
The National Australian Building Environmental Rating Scheme (NABERS), by contrast, uses in-use energy data to distinguish between the areas controlled by the landlord and the areas controlled by the tenant, as well as the performance of the building’s fabric, to create a rating that landlords are happy to engage with. As a result, building owners are only too happy to brag about the stars their building has achieved under this scheme, to the point where the NABERS rating is common vocabulary in the marketplace, and commercial tenants often insist on certain ratings when they inquire after property.

This is effectively a market-driven approach to energy that encourages good practice by linking it to very tangible benefits, rather than through threat of sanction. The fastest way to a client’s heart is through their wallet, after all, and this represents a first-class way to recognise and reward real, measured performance. But there’s a darker side to this situation. What is, at the moment, a discussion being had largely around the cost and supply of energy and how it’s generated could in the near future become a much more serious discussion about basic needs.

How we tackle energy use now could be a dry run for how we talk about national or global water shortages in the future, so it could pay to make sure our model works now before the consequences of failure become even more severe. This is where Likes come in again. In the same way that NABERS has been able to get landlords actively engaged in marketing a high energy rating as a must-have, so engineers must work on ways to get occupants to think this way too, and with new technology this is becoming more and more realistic.

Technology can be used to engage building occupants in sustainability

‘Big data’ projects like BIM are revolutionising building services, and we are finding new ways of using technology to make buildings more efficient, more responsive and more pleasant to use every day. But, as we learned at our last Conference, a building that truly performs is only as good as its occupants allow it to be. Even the most artfully designed system is a failure if occupants don’t like it and don’t use it properly, or reduce its effectiveness by finding ways to avoid using it at all. Air conditioning left on all day, timed light switches taped over to keep them on, motion sensors turned off. All of these reduce intended performance.

By listening to occupants and giving them an incentive to feed back by using their responses to improve buildings they use, we can instead design systems that occupants actually like. This can be as simple as a questionnaire, or even happy/sad face buttons by the service you’re testing for occupants to press. Whatever works. By showing users that their building gets better as they engage, the more likely they are to advocate for more sustainable approaches and insist that these are the

Engineers in the future could identify needs before the occupants, using data
All these options are possible now, but what about the future? As we collect more and more information from buildings and get better at actually using it usefully, it opens up many possibilities. One of the more exciting is predictive technology, which most people will recognise in Google’s uncanny ability to show you adverts for things you want. The more data we get from occupants, the more sophisticated and accurate these algorithms will become. Engineers of the future could run programmes to determine exactly how to design every conceivable feature of a building to match the anticipated occupants, better than they could ever describe it themselves.

This data would cause a sea-change in how buildings are specified, designed, built and operated, in order to best fit their purpose and eliminate as much waste as is possible. To be comfortable and well designed, yet also as efficient as possible. To minimise input costs as well as maximise output benefits. But before any of this can happen, we need to think like NABERS and create ways to incentivise building owners and users to maximise their own building performance. Only then can we create a long-term and sustainable system that puts performance first. Not bad for a humble Like!

Monday, 8 August 2016

The long haul

We have had a little time to reflect in the month since the Brexit vote but regardless of the result, we still have a lot of work to do to meet the UK’s ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions. The referendum outcome had barely even sunk in when, on 30th June, the government committed to the emissions reductions recommended by the Committee on Climate Change to reduce the UK’s carbon output by 57% relative to 1990 levels by 2030. In the light of this, it is even more important than ever that CIBSE and its members work collaboratively as we address the consequences of the vote to leave. It is reassuring to see that the engineering sector reacted swiftly to the vote and the Royal Academy of Engineering has already established a group to look at the potential consequences for the sector, especially in the UK.

Prior success has been led by reducing
emissions by generation  ©Paul Glazzard
My colleague at CIBSE Hywel Davies has written a detailed and informative summary of exactly where we currently sit from a legislative perspective after the vote which makes for sobering reading. While the future isn’t clear and largely hinges on the negotiations of the next few years, the numbers are clear: The UK needs to stick to all of its current climate targets, and set more ambitious ones to meet, if it’s going to hit that 57% goal.

Having said that, the ‘bonfire of the subsidies’ widely feared ahead of the vote doesn’t seem to have taken place yet (although there have been reductions in the Renewable Heat Incentive, announced before the vote). While the many rules and regulations that hold up these targets will take a lot of artful work to unpick, leaving the EU won’t cause it all to collapse around our heads. Just days after the vote, on June 30th, the Government committed to the 57% target and at the same time produced a report on its current progress that detailed what was being done right and what needs to be improved.

The main hero behind the current 38% reduction in emissions since 1990 is electricity generation, which has seen cleaner forms of energy and efforts to de-carbonise fossil fuels pay dividends, but little progress has been made in other areas such as heat provision and energy efficiency. This is where our industry needs to step in. There are potential bumps in the road ahead for our members and their businesses: a cautious foreign property investment sector, industrial relations might yet be spooked by trade negotiations, and big property funds may take a protectionist stance. However, we cannot let these worries affect our commitment to driving sustainability.

It’s tempting in uncertain times like these to hold back on collaboration, wait to see what the market does and keep a suspicious eye on our competitors – but this is actually the time when we need to work together the most. We need to know what the industry is worried about, where it sees opportunities and what it wants a post-Brexit British sustainability sector to look like. If we can get these views across to the politicians in charge of setting the agenda, we have the chance to set targets and policies in this country that are even more ambitious than before. And it is clear that as we seek to make our way in the wider world beyond the EU, our skills and knowledge of sustainability may yet provide new trading opportunities for CIBSE engineers.

CIBSE engineers have the skills and knowledge to take advantage of new markets

If we can get our heads together, survey the industry and decide what we want to change and what we want to stay the same, we can continue to drive forwards. Whilst the EU has in the past played a key role in energy management in the built environment, setting targets and legislating to improve energy efficiency in buildings and products, there is no reason why we have to see Brexit as a killer blow for the UK’s hopes of reaching its climate targets. That role is now down to businesses and organisations like our Institution.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Doing the right thing

Last month, it was almost exactly a year since The Edge published their ‘Collaboration for Change’ report; something that CIBSE has been heavily involved in under my predecessor Nick Mead, Vice-President Paddy Conaghan and now myself. The report, written by Paul Morrell, was an insightful look at the areas of Ethics, Research, Education, the Performance Gap, Industry reform and Climate Change – and how collaboration between professional bodies can advance the whole industry in these areas.

For me, the report was particularly eye-opening in the way it discussed the effect that the industry could have on Government policy and the wider community if only we can maximise the potential of working together. He should know: He’s the former Government Chief Construction Advisor, and what he had to say in the report was a big influence on my own theme for my Presidency – raising the voice of Engineering in society.

The ‘performance gap’ side of the report was thrown into focus last month by some interesting work by the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP), but it also raised no small amount of ethical questions too. They are launching an 18 month pilot along with Verco, BSRIA, Arup and UBT mirroring the Australian NABERS Commitment Agreement that was discussed at our Technical Symposium in April, and commits those involved in delivering a building to minimum levels of in-use performance.

Mirvac Group won the Facilities Management Award at the 2016
Building Performance Awards for their 6 Star NABERS performance
The BBP have said that it’s about designing for performance rather than designing for compliance which, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head. We shouldn’t just be doing this to tick the requisite boxes and avoid getting into trouble, we should be doing it out of a commitment to make buildings perform better environmentally and for their occupants.

To me, this is where the ethics comes in. If we are going to achieve the goal I set out earlier this year, and take our place as engineers at the top table on sustainability issues, we need to be as sustainable as we can because it’s the right thing to do, not just because we have to. Getting involved in a scheme where we can promise a certain standard – and then go out and deliver it – would show that we have both the commitment and the technical skill to make a difference in the world. Something not many other professions can claim.

From a similar standpoint, another event I attended in May gave similar pause on the subject of women engineers and their place in the industry. Very kindly hosted by Lord O’Neill, the CIBSE patrons briefing and dinner at the House of Lords was a great success yet again. Our keynote speaker, former ‘Tomorrow’s World’ presenter Kate Bellingham gave a rousing talk on the importance of STEM education in raising the next generation of engineers – and also focussed on the appallingly low percentage of women in the industry – quoted as 6% of chartered Engineers.

                         Fiona Cousins covers the ethical question in the 2016 Annual Lecture

Here again, there are both practical and ethical reasons why we simply must do better. STEM subjects are naturally areas from which engineers are likely to emerge, but the profession must also cope with the lure of high-wage City firms picking off the cream of the talent, whilst engineering is all too often seen as a dull alternative without the same potential for excitement and reward. This again is another area where engineers need a bigger voice – we make the modern world work, and the answer to some of the world’s most pressing problems from overcrowding to climate change lie firmly within our remit.

We can inspire future generations to take on these challenges in our industry - the best equipped to deal with them – but it requires influential voices to make the case for engineering as a world-changing job with real solutions to make a better future. And this cause isn’t helped when we fail to appeal to more than half of the population, but inspiration is a great start. National Women in Engineering Day run by the Women’s Engineering Society is a brilliant effort that is held this year on 23 June, and brings together hundreds of national initiatives from events in schools to national media work.

We’re helping out this year with our survey on inspiring women engineers, but we all need to do more. This is another area in which our leadership can play a big part in showing young women and girls what is possible through an engineering career, whether that’s through higher education or apprenticeships, and dispelling the myths around the industry that it’s ‘just for boys’. As with a lot of what we do, true leadership will only be achieved when we make change because it is right, not just because it is necessary.

Only 6% of Chartered Engineers are women

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

A new perspective

In the first of his monthly blogs, CIBSE President John Field will introduce the primary theme of his Presidency. John will write a blog every month on a variety of topics; encompassing news, views and opinion, that will lend an insight into life at the top of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

Last week I was given the tremendous honour of being inducted as President of CIBSE by past-President Nick Mead, whose thoughts you have been reading on this blog for the past year. Those who were in the audience at our AGM at the Royal Society will have heard me use my inaugural speech to draw attention to a few issues that are of importance to me, and will be addressed during my term in office (and if you didn’t, a video of it is above!).

In my first blog, I would like to draw further attention one particular issue in action, and what I plan to do to address it.

You’ll likely be familiar with the ongoing discussion over what is to be done about the Palace of Westminster, the world famous home of the UK’s Houses of Parliament, which is currently sinking into the ground – and that’s not the worst of its problems. Having put off decisions to operate on the building’s many faults over the last decade due to the political un-palatability of spending billions on Government buildings, problems have been allowed to mount including; a rats nest of outdated wiring, damp, asbestos, leaky pipes and failing stonework.

The Palace of Westminster is slowly falling apart
As part of the Government’s approach to carrying out the restoration, the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster heard evidence from professional bodies including my predecessor Nick Mead as President of CIBSE, who did a terrific job of pressing the benefits of a partial or total decant of MPs to allow for a shorter and cheaper refit.

Rather than working on an active building with the problems this entails; health and safety around live wires, whole sections without power and water for days, and the extra time required to ensure work does not endanger vital systems, MPs should be moved elsewhere on the estate during works to save as much as 20 years and £3bn.

It is clear that moving as many MPs from Parliament during the works is preferable, safer, cheaper, easier and faster, and yet there are still reports in the press that suggest the Government will argue for an extended 32 year rolling programme of maintenance with very high cost – because such disruption spreads the cost and won’t leave as big an annual hole in the balance sheet. A £5.7bn cost over 32 years of hell (with MPs still working in Westminster) to do a mediocre job is politically acceptable; £3.5bn for a relatively fast and much more effective job (with MPs decanted) is not acceptable.

Past-President Nick Mead gives evidence in Parliament
A stellar cast of industry-leading bodies assembled in Westminster that day to give evidence to the committee; including CIBSE, RIBA, RICS and ICE – evidence that it appears that the Government is doing its best to ignore. This brings me to the main point behind my inaugural speech: CIBSE has an unrivalled set of expertise on building services, and we should be the voice of the industry that kicks up a fuss!

Building services should be seen as something that is at the heart of modern-day life – up there with healthcare, the legal professions and banking. People spend 94% of their life inside buildings and transport – they live, work, eat and sleep in them. They keep people alive, healthy and safe, and they also hold the key to solving one of the great issues of our time in climate change.

Buildings are behind nearly half of the UK’s CO2 emissions, and up to 70% of the electricity we generate is used by them – often from less than clean sources. We as an industry have done some incredible things with buildings since 1899 when the Institution of Heating & Ventilating Engineers first met, but a lot of our work is done behind closed doors and is never even noticed by the vast majority of people when it is done right.

The Ideal Home solar house that John helped design and commission. Ground-breaking in 1981!
What I will aim to do during my Presidency is carry forward that aim of raising the industry’s profile, which will include kicking up a fuss if needs be when we see something that isn’t right from a building performance standpoint – whether that’s in the industry, in the media or even in political circles. The incredible initiatives and achievements we carry out every day are vital to the present and future of the world and are inspiring, but we can only spread that inspiration to students, politicians, other professions and the public at large if we find our voice, and share it with the world.